HOWARD — Despite big rallies in each set by the East Knox Bulldogs, the Cardington Pirates picked up the three-set win Tuesday in Howard to remain fourth in the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference standings.
“I take nothing away from East Knox, but I don’t think we played our best,” Cardington coach Ryan Treese said. “We had really, really, really good spurts. … We can’t get over this hump of this is who we were and this is what we do.”
The Pirates started out the match on one of those strong spurts, taking a 7-0 lead in the blink of an eye, powered by two kills from Hannah Wickline. Bulldog Sydney Buckingham got the home team on the board with a kill and that started an East Knox run. An ace by Leah Rager cut the lead to 7-5, but that was as close as East Knox could get. Cardington built an eight-point lead at 15-7 and again at 18-10 and turned that into a 21-11 lead off an error by the Bulldogs.
“The girls fought hard, it just took them too long to get into the fight,” East Knox coach Allie Henthorn said. “For us, it’s all about finishing — being able to finish what we start and being able to get involved early. Starting high and staying high the whole time is something we struggle with, but we’re learning.”
Set 2 started on a more level playing field and a Bartok kill put the Bulldogs ahead 10-9, before the visitors rattled off four-straight to go up 13-10. Similar to the first set, East Knox continued to battle and a Cheyenne Frost kill put the Bulldogs ahead 18-16. After a Pirate timeout, the visitors scored six of the next seven points to go up 22-19 and cruised to the 25-20 win.
In the third set, both teams traded blows until Cardington opened up a 12-9 lead, forcing an East Knox timeout. The Pirates did not lose their steam and built a double-digit lead (21-11). A kill by Emalee Artz set the score at 22-12. East Knox again fought back. A kill by Bartok, with another by Reign Hernandez cut the lead to 22-16.
The Bulldogs had their backs against the wall with the score at 24-16, before scoring five-straight. Frost had two kills and Bartok kicked in another during the spree. A long rally was ended by a kill from Cardington’s Katie Lester to give the visitors the final set, 25-21.
“It’s a true picture of what our girls can do,” Henthorn said of the rallies in each set. “They are incredible and they all play very well together. They’re individually very strong and then as a whole they’re very strong. But, it’s hard to do that when you’re already down.”
Stats for East Knox were unavailable to the News at press time. Clinger paced the Pirates with 11 kills, 20 digs and two aces.
“I’ve said this probably every match, but Paige Clinger,” Treese said of who impressed him on the floor. “It’s her leadership. She does more than just get kills. … She gives the other girls so much confidence.”
The Bulldogs return to action Thursday at home against Centerburg, with freshman play starting at 4:30 p.m. Cardington hosts Northmor Thursday in a big KMAC match.